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Government must clean up existing mines

Media release for immediate use – 21 October 2009

Government must clean up existing mines

The Government should sort out environmental degradation caused by existing mines rather than proposing new ones on core conservation land, Forest & Bird says.

The independent conservation organisation was responding to a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, which today recommended that the Government tighten up weak and unenforceable environmental regulations on more than 100 mines around the country.

The commissioner expressed concern that there are 111 long-term mining licences still operating that were granted under old mining legislation, so are exempt from environmental regulations under the Resource Management Act.

Some of the licences were granted for up to 100 years – the longest is not due to expire till 2062, and the commissioner says environmental protection at these mines is weak and virtually unenforceable. Fifty-five of the 111 licences, which include coal, brown coal, gold, silver, gravel and aggregates, include conservation land. Together they cover an area more than ¾ the size of Lake Taupo.

Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says the situation creates a high risk of environmental damage, including toxic contamination, acidification and sedimentation of waterways, destruction of native habitats and species, ground subsidence, and trashing of natural landscapes.

“We are very concerned that the existing regulatory framework provides virtually no control on mining activities under these licences,” Kevin Hackwell says.

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“What is even more concerning is the Government intends to extend mining into core conservation land which is currently protected under Section 4 of the Crown Minerals Act because of its high conservation value. The Government should instead be sorting out the problem that already exists.”

The commissioner expressed particular concern about “orphan” contaminated mines: those which are abandoned when mining companies, having made their profits, go into liquidation, leaving toxic time-bombs for the Government – and taxpayers - to clean up. For example the taxpayer is cleaning up the former Tui Mine in the Coromandel at a cost of more than $10 million.

“We can’t afford to let these mines continue to operate under what the commissioner describes as outdated and unenforceable regulations. If it doesn’t act now, the future cost in environmental damage and a taxpayer bill to clean it up will be massive.”

While Forest & Bird supports the commissioner’s view that the Government must act to address the problem of old licences, it is disappointed that her report fails to address the likely extinction of the Powelliphanta giant native snails due to mining of their habitat by State-owned Solid Energy at the Stockton Mine on the West Coast.


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